September 9, 2009

Megan Fox: Not Just a Pretty Face

Megan Fox is a very good looking woman. Let's just get that out of the way right off the top. But as an actress, I really knew very little about her, until seeing a press screening of her new film, Jennifer's Body this morning. I've not seen either of the Transformer movies and have no intention of ever watching them, so while she's been on my pop culture radar for awhile now, thanks in part to several magazine articles - say what you want, the girl is a fantastic interview - I've never seen her "work."

She picked up a lot points from me earlier this summer when she took on uber-hack Michael Bay in the press when she spoke dismissively of the "role" she was given in the Transformer films. "Working with Michael Bay is not about an acting experience," she commented, adding, "I don't want to blow smoke up people's ass. People are well aware this isn't a movie about acting. 'All right, I know that when he calls Action! I'm gonna either be running or screaming or both.'" As someone who loathes the work of Michael Bay, these comments endeared Ms. Fox to me. However, the fact remained, while she's quickly become a household name, it really wasn't known whether or not she could act.

Her new film, Jennifer's Body sees Fox in the lead. I was interested in this movie because it was screenwriter Diablo Cody's follow up to Juno, a film I enjoyed, and it was a genre film. When the trailers (regular and red-band) were released, my enthusiasm for the project dimmed. Neither seemed very interesting, funny or scary and I soon discovered the films director, Karyn Kusama had the Charlize Theron clunker Aeon Flux on her resume following her promising debut Girlfight. So as I settled into my seat this morning with my TIFF partnerJohnny Hockin I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

This movie charmed me pretty early. I must confess to being a fan of Cody, who is a very divisive writer; I certainly heard a lot of people ripping on her stylized dialogue in Juno, and if you didn't like that, you won't like this flick either. From page one of the screenplay, this is a Diablo Cody film. It also became pretty clear why the trailers didn't do the film justice: it's more about tone then it is about the one-liners. And while there is some pretty bloody splatter stuff in a few of the scenes, the movie never even attempts to be scary. As I was watching the film, I couldn't help but think of Megan Fox's comments about her former director, Michael Bay, because in this movie, the tone of the movie is so important, that she had to totally and implicitly trust Karyn Kusama, because her performance; and the fate of the movie, relies on the directors ability to walk the fine line between smart satire and awkward misfire.

This film isn't reinventing the wheel, or breaking any new ground. The metaphor of the horrors of high school life being, well, actually horrific isn't something that we haven't seen before. But that doesn't mean a fun, enjoyable film can't follow that path. Body reminds me, in a lot of ways, of Heathers, a superior film in a similar vein from 1988. Much like that movie, high school kids start turning up dead, but in Jennifer's Body it's the hot cheerleader behind the carnage. Cody's script plays with a lot of conventions of "teenager" movies, mocking a lot of the conservative opinions of "what's wrong with the
kids today." Sexually active females? Bad news! Rock and Roll music? That's the devil! Boys with raging hormones? They're asking for trouble! The pretty girl who seems perfect? Turns out she's evil! The difference here is, instead of the bitchy girl trafficking in mean spirited gossip and public humiliation, she literally consumes her classmates in spectacularly gory fashion. The movie also toys with horror movie conventions. There's a pretty well established formula in genre pictures: a male killer who usually preys on helpless females. In this movie, the female lead rushes to save her overmatched boyfriend from a grisly demise. The script is smart and funny, but the execution of a film like this is crucial. Megan Fox, in the title role, fully commits and trusts her director enough to deliver a promising performance.

While I praise Megan and think she just may be a case of not judging a book by its very, very, very fine cover, my favorite part of the movie was the evil rock and roll band Low Shoulder. They appear to be a thinly vieled knock off of The Killers, but the very best bit takes the piss out of Maroon 5. If you've got a movie with a lead actress that looks like Megan Fox and you rip on Maroon 5, well, let's just say that sounds like something I might be interested in.

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